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Jersey City clergy members push for accelerated action on affordable housing, gun safety

The group, Jersey City Together, has scheduled meetings with Gov. Phil Murphy and state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

JERSEY CITY -- More than 500 faith & community leaders from the city came together Sunday night to push the city and state's elected officials for accelerated action on affordable housing, gun safety, and a number of other issues prevalent in the community.

The meeting, at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church on Bergen Avenue, featured dozens of speakers from a number of different religious institutions in Jersey City as well as in the state.

The event was organized by Jersey City Together, a group comprised of 35 religious congregations and non-profits. It launched in April 2016 with 890 leaders at Old Bergen Church in April 2016 and gathered 1,100 leaders in 2017 for the largest pre-election action in Jersey City.

"How completely alone you feel when you send your child off to school and worry if they'll make it home, how terrifying and isolating that feeling is," said Rev. Laurie Wurm of the Grace Church Van Vorst. "Or when you're in school and... with all of the wealth and all of the development in this city, there isn't enough money to get the education you deserve, how isolating that feels."

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop assured the audience that they had a partner in him in addressing these issues, but said that tackling them -- and creating a more equal community -- will take time.

The hundreds of people in the audience heard troubling stories of life in Jersey City for some: one Greenville resident described her fear walking home every night; a McNair Academy High School student described how the school was so short on funding it couldn't fix a broken sink that had fallen off the wall.

One resident of the Holland Gardens Housing complex, Tanisha Johnson, told the crowd that she catches at least 17 mice in her apartment a night.

"With all of the high rises built around us... it's sad and ridiculous," she said.

Fulop responded, "When individuals like that come up and tell that story, it's troubling, I take that stuff very personally. At the end of the day I'm the one accountable for it, and there's work to be done. We want to move past that perception of a tale of two cities that people say, and it's going to take time. Rest assured you have a partner."

Fulop was not the only one called on to help address these issues. The group has meetings scheduled with both Gov. Phil Murphy and state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in January of 2019.

"We've got to hold (Murphy) accountable, because we understand that they're are a lot of things we will not be able to do and accomplish unless he becomes a partner, just like our mayor has become a partner," said Rev. Joshua Rodriguez of the Cityline Church.

But clergy members also highlighted the successes the city has had, pointing to the 95-acre Bayfront site on the city's west side, that Fulop estimates could include 35% affordable housing and would be one of the largest mixed-income, mixed-use developments in the state. 

They also lauded new leadership surrounding rent control, with more focus on predatory landlords.

And they assured the audience that despite the hardships they may feel, they are not alone.

"When we gather together, we are no longer alone, and that light of truth, that light of listening and understanding and compassion... that light shines brightly," Wurm said. "Remember you are not alone and this community will work together... We will share our burdens together until Jersey City is really a city for all people."

Corey W. McDonald may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow him on Twitter @coreymacc. Find The Jersey Journal on Facebook.

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2 questions opponents of legal weed can't answer | Moran

How else can we stop the racial discrimination? And why is banning weed today any more sensible than banning booze during Prohibition?

The showdown vote on recreational marijuana could come as early as Dec. 17, and it remains too close to call. That's rare in Trenton, where final votes on big issues are usually choreographed in advance by party bosses.

Legislators get nervous about making big changes like this, because they know a lot of people will hate them either way. It's safer to leave things as they are, better for the digestion.

And for the faint of heart, it's easy to find a place to hide when so many sloppy arguments are flying around in defense of the status quo.

More car crashes, if you twist the data so hard it screams. Children lured into the abyss, as if they don't have access to weed today. Edibles that dangerously turbo-charge the high, as if it's impossible to mark the dosage.

At a climactic hearing on Nov. 26, Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, called legalization a "slap in the face" to people of color, based on his own special logic that I can't begin to understand, given the army of young men of color who wake up every morning inside metal cages, courtesy of the current laws.

Sen. Gerry Cardinale, R-Bergen, cited rock hard proof that even moderate use of marijuana leaves permanent brain damage. "Is the tax trade-off going to be sufficient to have a lot of people walking around with major portions of their brains knocked out?" he asked. "I don't think so."

Do I need to comment on that one? Is it possible Cardinale sipped on a nice safe martini before delivering this unhinged rant?

The hearing, though, produced two epic confrontations that clarified this debate for me, both of them delivering knock-out blows to the defenders of the status quo.

The first concerned race, and it came when Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-Essex, who is African-American, confronted a panel of white police officers who opposed legalization. Holley's father spent years in prison on drug charges, and he was fired up about the mountain of evidence showing that blacks are about three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though they use weed at about the same rate.

"Why is it that African-American males in particular are being arrested and convicted more than their white counterparts?" he asked.

"I don't think we know the underlying reasons," answered Sayreville Police Chief John Zebrowski.

"I do!" Holley snapped back. "It's their skin color."

 The source for premium inside coverage

Holley asked, over and over, if the police on the panel could suggest a better way to end this racial injustice than by legalizing recreational use.

He never got an answer.

* * *

The other moment of clarity at the hearing came when Sen. Nick Scutari, D-Union, the sponsor of the legalization bill, confronted Patrick Kennedy, a former Congressman and the son of former Sen. Ted Kennedy. Kennedy has gone full circle, from addict to crusader against legalization.

He started by insulting supporters of legalization by questioning their motives, saying they didn't care so much about justice or race, just about raising tax money. Presumably, he was able to peer into their hearts at a glance. "What you're really after today is a quick financial fix," he said. "As a former addict myself, I can tell you that quick fixes don't work."

Scutari has been working on this for a good decade, talking to experts on both sides, travelling all over the country, doing just what you'd want a serious legislator to do. He's a criminal defense lawyer and has seen up close the damage done by the roughly 32,000 marijuana possession arrests each year in New Jersey, over 600 a week. He's seen white kids with money get away with a slap, while black kids often land in jail.

Now, a big-shot Kennedy from out of town was judging him as a money scamp. Scutari sat still, but you could almost feel the heat rising.

"Would you suggest we prohibit the sale of alcohol in New Jersey?" Scutari asked.

"That's such a red herring," Kennedy said. "You can do that for the media. You and I both know that will never happen because of the power of the lobbyists for the liquor industry."

Right, but would Kennedy want that, if he could overcome the liquor lobby, Scutari asked?

"Two wrongs don't make a right," Kennedy answered.

Think about that. That answer confirmed that Kennedy does indeed believe legal sale of alcohol is a "wrong."

Scutari pressed him harder, for good reason. Alcohol prohibition failed miserably because people wanted to drink, so they bought booze on the black market. That led to an explosion of crime and violence, and a new disrespect for the rule of law among decent people. It packed the prisons with the foot soldiers who did the selling, but it did not stop people from drinking. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Kennedy, perhaps aware that he was getting murdered on the merits, became grouchy, condescending and loud. "I'm not going there," he barked at Scutari, in a scolding tone I last heard from my first-grade teacher, a nun at St. Elizabeth's. "How many times do I have to tell you?"

You can reasonably argue that no one on earth should smoke weed. Let's face it, it doesn't sharpen your game in life. It leads to binge-watching Sopranos on HBO, and snarfing Doritos. And we really should be eating more salad and reading great literature.

I saw my sister's death up close. We should allow death with dignity. | Moran

But what about other sub-optimal behaviors, like drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and eating crispy bacon - all of them with a much higher body count than smoking weed? We have reduced cigarette smoking by about one-quarter since 2005 with education and taxes, while use of marijuana is growing, even where it remains illegal.

So, if you want a more sober society, especially for kids, it doesn't follow that throwing thousands of people in jail every year is the best way to achieve it.

Ask Alexa

The Dec. 17 vote may be delayed, thanks to quibbles between legislators and Gov. Phil Murphy over taxes (Murphy wants a higher rate) and oversight of the industry (legislators want an independent commission).

My guess is they will come around, if not in December then soon after. But it's beyond disheartening to know that each week they delay, 600 more lives get derailed, the bulk of them black and Latino. Let's hope the Legislature doesn't dawdle for too long.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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Trump picks a new attorney general, and it's not Chris Christie

Former Gov. Chris Christie coveted the post and was on the shortlist to get it. But President Donald Trump picked somebody else to be the next attorney general.

 

President Donald Trump selected a new U.S. attorney general Friday, and it's not former Gov. Chris Christie, who has coveted the position and was a contender. 

Trump announced he plans to nominate William Barr, who served as U.S. attorney general under then-President George H.W. Bush's administration.

Christie was one of a few people who remained on Trump's shortlist, a source familiar with the situation confirmed to NJ Advance Media last week.

The list has whittled down in recent weeks, but Christie -- a longtime friend and ally to Trump, a fellow Republican -- was still "a top contender" and "checks all the boxes," according to the source.

New Jersey's 55th governor long has coveted the position. After Trump pushed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of as the country's chief law enforcement officer Wednesday, Christie's name emerged as a possible replacement.

Christie on possible AG role: Trump hasn't asked

Trump announced his pick outside the White House as he prepared to board a helicopter.

"I want to confirm that Bill Barr," Trump told reporters.

Barr "will be nominated for the United States Attorney General and hopefully that process will go very quickly," he said.

Christie didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The job of attorney general was one of only two that Christie said he would have accepted in the Trump administration that would have prompted him to resign as governor.

The other position was to be Trump's vice president.

But neither post was offered to Christie, who instead served the rest of his second term in office until Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, succeeded him in January.

Despite being in the running, Christie said as recently as the middle of last month that he had not talked to the president about the job.

"No," the ex-governor said in response to a question about whether Trump talked to him about it.

Christie, who was in Atlantic City for a public event, wouldn't tell reporters whether he would have taken the job if it was offered.

"The only person I owe that answer to is the president of the United States, and he hasn't asked," Christie said.

Since he left office, Christie has worked as a private lawyer and a political analyst for ABC News.

"I love my life that I have right now," he said at the time. "I'm more relaxed than I have been in 16 years," Christie added. "(Wife) Mary Pat and I are enjoying our time."

The week before Christie made the comments, Trump that while he likes Christie, he had not spoken to him about becoming attorney general and that his administration was "looking at other people."

NJ Advance Media staff writer Brent Johnson contributed to this report.

Matt Arco may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewArco or Facebook.


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Vineland man charged in birthday party shooting

One man was wounded in the March 13 incident in Franklin Township.

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N.J. casts its electoral votes for Hillary Clinton as Donald Trump secures win

President of N.J. electoral college said she wanted intelligence briefing on "foreign intrusion" of election.

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Obama grants clemency to 2 from N.J.

President Barack Obama is reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders.

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Assembly Democrat: Controversial Christie bills in trouble

State Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who opposes the bill, said he and his colleagues don't see the need to rush this bill through on the last voting session of the year.

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Accused killer due in court on another murder charge

The 20-year-old Khalil Wheeler-Weaver's lawyer said he will plead not guilty to the most recent charges of murder and disturbing human remains

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N.J. man indicted in Livingston woman's strangling death

Authorities have declined to identify how Dwayne Birchler and his alleged victim, Lindsay A. Ulyate, knew each other.

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Truck fire snarling traffic on Route 31 at I-95 in Mercer County

The fire, reported at about 4:30 p.m. on the southbound lanes of Route 31, apparently involves a truck carrying cars.

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